How to Use Design Thinking to Become a Creative Problem Solver

Blue fishA fish doesn’t know it’s wet.

David Kelley, founder of leading design firm IDEO, shares a one-liner from his mentor to illustrate the idea that sometimes we are so close to a problem we are unable to spot the underlying cause and fix it.

In fact, when presented with a problem, our natural tendency is to jump to solutions too quickly. 

That’s where design thinking can help. It looks at innovation as a process and provides a methodology we can use to access our natural creativity and problem-solving ability.

IDEO’s unique design-thinking process has helped the firm solve problems for organizations large and small, resulting in products from Sesame Street iPhone apps to an ideal home to serve the needs of soldiers injured in the field.

Diversity of thought
In a recent issue of The Wall Street Journal, writer Carolyn T. Geer takes a look at David Kelley’s innovative thinking. “Anybody can be creative,” says Kelley in the piece. “You just have to learn how.”

In addition to his work at IDEO, Kelly is a founder of The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. Known informally as the d. school, it draws students from all seven of Stanford’s graduate programs, including business, medicine and law. Their diverse backgrounds enhance the learning process and show the students how important diverse points of view are to developing breakthrough ideas.

According to the article, the d. school’s enrollment has grown from 30 six years ago to 700 today — perhaps partly due to the fact that employers seek out students with d. school credentials.

Geer’s article prompted me to research more about Kelley’s method. I found several videos allowing me to see him discuss his approach, including a long, but well worth-watching presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Building your creative confidence
Kelley recommends changing your mindset to become more creative. Like Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone, he believes each of us is naturally creative. Unfortunately, he notes, we seem to lose confidence in our ability somewhere between second and fourth grades.

Although “not everyone is Leonardo da Vinci,” he believes we can raise our creative potential considerably by changing our mindsets.

Are you waiting for a flash of lightening to ignite your creative confidence? In fact, creative confidence is a way of thinking about the world and your ability to effect change. In a video, Kelley describes his approach:

  • The creative process is experiential. When solving a problem, it’s important to spend time with the users of a product or service to understand what the problem is. This fundamental research also helps you develop empathy for the user.
  • Next, review your research and brainstorm solutions. Kelley favors action to see how solutions might work in the real world. Thus, this stage includes building a prototype, getting feedback from users and then fixing the model. Kelley notes that the process is iterative and that prototypes evolve over time.
  • The third phase relies on storytelling skills. This means painting a positive picture of the future with ideas.
  • The final idea is the importance of radical collaboration, or the ability to work in teams with people who have different points of view. Working collaboratively helps participants move beyond the obvious solutions and generate big ideas.

A TV program filmed IDEO solving a problem in a short time frame to see design thinking applied practically. Although the shopping cart that results from the experiment may need a few more iterations, it’s the process itself that deserves your attention.

Even if you can’t get to Stanford for a graduate program, you can learn from d. school methods here.

Many thanks to ZeroOne for the great photo via Flickr.

You might also enjoy Brainstorming: No Creative Idea Left Behind.

About creativeconsiderations

Christine Sullivan is a communications strategist with expertise in communications planning, writing and content development, and executive communications. She can be reached at
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2 Responses to How to Use Design Thinking to Become a Creative Problem Solver

  1. Pingback: Four TED Talks to Inspire Your Creativity — Part One | creativeconsiderations

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